Online safety: What you need to know


The time to think about cyberharassment is before it starts.

Having an online presence is an important part of running a business. More often than not your clients and potential clients will find you online rather than in a phonebook. Your website and social media presence offer a peek into your practice-and that personal connection is important. But what happens when something goes wrong and you find yourself flooded by negative Facebook comments, tweets, emails or even threats of violence?

The time to think about cyberharassment is before it starts, says Parry Aftab, JD, Internet security lawyer and founder of Review the privacy and security settings as you setup your account so your security is strong from the start. “Facebook, Google and Bing search your name and your practice name-see what people are saying about you,”Aftab says. “You can also set up alerts for your name on these services, and you'll get an email when that search term is triggered. It's an early alert if people do start using your name online.”

Any business has to think about what could happen when an employee is terminated or leaves under unhappy circumstances, and then they need to change social media passwords, but veterinarians are in a special situation. People get very emotional about their pets, even more so than their families sometimes, Aftab says. “What starts as one post from someone whose pet had a bad surgery outcome can grow much larger quickly when the animal rights activists join in and they aren't clients of that particular clinic.”

Aftab, who is based in New York and is familiar with the story of the late Shirley Koshi, DVM, has founded and will launch, with a target date of November 2015,, a site and resource specifically for those in the human health and veterinary fields. “There's a gap in what medical professionals are taught about communication online. This will teach digital hygiene and what veterinarians should be doing to protect online tools from being used against them, and teach them how to handle it if an animal rights group gets involved. How to safely respond and to take it offline and protect themselves, the practice and staff,” she says.

Digital breadcrumbs

One of the common things people think they need to do when addressing cyberharrassment is to print everything out. While that does keep a record of the interaction, the more important step is to keep the digital trail in place, Aftab says.

“Most social media networks collect device information. If you log into Facebook from your cellphone, Facebook knows which phone you used. You can ask the law enforcement agency you're working with to send the social network a ‘preservation letter.' It will keep things from being deleted for 30 days and they can find out who is behind the harassing messages,” she says.

Making a note of the local time the message was posted is helpful as well, or you can even have an Information Technology person mirror your hard drive if you want to submit it as part of the investigation.

Stop, block and tell

Aftab teaches clients to use the “Stop, block and tell” method to address concerns regarding their online safety.

Stop: Don't react or respond online. If it's a client with a legitimate concern, pick up the phone and address it directly.

Block: Block the user. Ban him or her from everything you control-your practice's social media and website. This won't stop the person from shouting hateful messages on other sites, but it will prevent the bully from using your site as a platform.

Tell: Tell your lawyers and local law enforcement about threats of harm. Take everything seriously. You never know when something that seems like a crackpot rant could turn much more grave.

Check your network

Another thing to keep an eye on is your network security. Make sure you haven't been the target of a malware or Trojan attack. Get a really good virus-scanning program and make sure there's not a “backdoor” in your security that someone could use against you. “Don't change network connections, install new software on your computer or change your password until after you've run the scan and checked for threats,” Aftab says. “Otherwise the cyberharasser will be able to get right back in.”

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